Posted on 7/9/18

The Texas Criminal Code recognizes the concept of transferred intent wherein a person who intends to commit a crime and in the end commits a similar crime is guilty of the crime. While the intention was not to commit the actual crime committed, the defendant would nonetheless be guilty of the crime through the doctrine of transferred intent.

The doctrine of transferred intent was put to into display in the 1982 Texas Court of Appeals case of Dowden v. State, which affirmed how powerful and intense the doctrine of transferred intent can be.

Dowden v. State

In that case, the defendant approached a police station heavily armed with intent to free a colleague who had been arrested. Based on the circumstances, the defendant approached the police station ready to kill, if need be.

The defendant entered the police station and approached the desk. The defendant pulled a gun and demanded freedom for his colleague. Immediately, the supervising officer approached the defendant and started wrestling with him. While the two men were wrestling, the gun fired in the direction of two officers. The gun fired three times and did not strike anyone. The two officers were on duty at the time.

The two officers then pulled their guns and slowly moved to the area where the gunfire erupted. In the meantime, the supervising officer got untangled from the defendant and started to make a move for the door. The supervising officer crashed through the door, and when the two officers saw someone crashing through the door, they opened fire, mistakenly killing the supervising officer.

Police apprehend the defendant. The prosecutor charges the defendant with murder, even though the other officers were the ones who killed the supervising officer.

At trial and confirmed on appeal, the defendant was found guilty of capital murder. While the prosecution never demonstrated that the defendant intended to kill in the manner that the supervising officer died, the prosecution nonetheless demonstrated an intent to kill. The defendant entered the police station armed and fired three shots at the other officers on duty. This wanton disregard for life was sufficient. When the other officers fired at the supervising officer, the intent of the defendant was transferred to the slain supervising officer.

This case set precedent for how far the doctrine of transferred intent goes in Texas. Not only will transferred intent apply to shooting the wrong person with a gun, it also applies when the defendant does not actually shoot the gun that kills. If the defendant creates a circumstance that causes such mayhem and has the intent to kill, the defendant is responsible for the murder.

Therefore, when accused of murder, you may be responsible even if it is never alleged that you performed the actual murder. This is a powerful tool in the prosecutor’s toolbox. If you are accused of a crime, contact the criminal defense law firm of Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense attorney.

(image courtesy of Nicolas Barbier Garreau)

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